Friday, August 24, 2012

B and E Dinner Parties Presents:

Double decker lasagnas and 10 stack at the Wirth home.

A B and E Dinner Party is shorthand for a Breaking and Entering Dinner Party.  This is done when you show up at the front door of a friend around dinner time, ring the bell, or just walk in, with arms full of ingredients, ransack the kitchen for pans, push your friends out to go relax, and forcibly cook them a delicious meal and make them enjoy it.  That is the ideal.  If the friends live 45 minutes away, then probably call first, and ask if its allright if you stop by to hang out, and oh by the way, since you are inviting yourself, you will cook.  The idea was loved by Teresa and my friends, the Wirths, Misty and Jonathan.  We texted them at gunpoint, that we were going to Cabela's, the world's funniest store, to buy me some bear pepper spray, and that since they live across the "street" (3 mile wide 12 lane freeway), we wanted to make the drive worth it by coming over.  I would prepare a lasagna, I promised.  Almost immediately, the love began, and enthusiasm.  Some fake kicking and screaming is always nice when arranging a B and E Dinner Party, but its hard to get most people to throw a fit when you offer to come to their home and pamper them.  Unless you are not fun to be around.  And when I am not in wild bear mode, I am damn charming and funny- when I want to be.  My favorite backhanded compliment ever received and a very poignant one was: "You're a LOT of fun to be around...when you want to be."  Which was this person's way of saying, "when your lip descends into that sulk-face scowl and you start getting shy, oh my god, I wish I had never been born and you are either a pain or terrifying to even be in a room with.  A real madman."  But I was in a great mood this night.  Plus I can cook.

Cabela's is the funniest store in the world for many reasons.  For 1, they have stuffed animals everywhere (the shot with a rifle kind) and fake trees, whose leaves change color with the seasons.  Approximately 1 mile of floorspace is dedicated to racks of expensive luxury guns with all kinds of bells and whistles.  Another 1 mile is dedicated to camouflage; underwear, fluffy pajamas, socks, beanies, gloves, face paint, ponchos, umbrellas, and anything else you can think of that hunters did not need until 1961 when Cabela's got a bold idea: lets invent a huge warehouse sized store with a whole lot of yuppie shit in it to target an untapped demographic that the gods of materialism and capitolism themselves could not extort: independent tough guy hunters.  Let's soften them up, butter them up, and break them down until they cannot live without our 2XL tee shirts that read: "You don't get to be a big fat fisherman without catching a lot of big fat fish!" and "You know what they say about skinny hunters: they're the ones who can't shoot and have to run after a lot of missed game!"  I made up one of those tee shirts by the way.  Okay, I made up both.  But if I pitched them to Cabela's, both would be best sellers by next Friday.  Clothes run large at Cabela's, and so do the bags of candy, the socks that go mid-thigh high for men (the butch equivalent of fishnet stockings?), the wading boots, fishing nets, travel sheds, meat processors, jerkey smokehouses, beer fridges, and everything else, especially the tabs.  As most items in Cabela's cost $350 or more, most people there will spend thousands of dollars.  Or wish they could.  Many men just spend entire weekends there, dreaming of all the crap they can buy to shoot elks with.  Like hunting chairs, which are hung in a tree, screwed in really, thus killing the tree, or starting its process of infection and rot, so a hunter can sit still scratching his ass and nose all day and then shoot anything that comes under his tree to lick a drop of honey.  Sounds like the sport of kings to me.  Country music plays endlessly, and for all or anyone else can tell, it might just be a single country song on a loop.  Who can say?  Not even Toby Keith knows if he's written more than one song or not, I reckon.

Well, I needed a laugh and some bear pepper spray, so it was time for another Cabela's run.  Also I need more thick socks, as my brown winter boots slip a lot since they are too big.  Socks were not quite easy to find, but there was a great selection and I have some pairs that should work, though I passed on the $21 pair of Smartwool merino socks.  Honestly, $21?!  I paid $16 for 2 pairs I've used on approximately 500 hikes and still smart from it.  They're only socks.  I got 2 other pairs for $20.  Here is to hoping they work.  I do not believe merino wool claims that the same fabric will keep me cool in summer and warm in winter by the way.  Wool is not a summer fabric, but I just need my feet to not slip and slide.  Bear pepper spray turned out even easier to find.  At REI it is hidden behind counters so children can't pry open the package with their trusty pen knife, accidentally flick off the large safety catch, and then shoot themselves or anyone else with glowing orange super-strong pepper spray from 30 feet away.  At Cabela's, its pretty much under a spotlight and the rack takes up an eighth of a mile.  But Cabela's carries the good brand: UDAP, which comes in a better can with a smaller safety catch, a free shoulder holster for spraying without removing it (held against the chest, it basically self aims so all one need do is flick off the latch) and costs only $35 for 7.9 ounces.  The REI brand of choice is Counter Assault, basically the same formula, spray, and can sizes, but it costs more and you have to buy a holster separate which really adds up.  Also I dislike the safety latch.  Mace is at Sports Authority and is also the same basic formula, bottle and price, but the safety latch is comically large and will be difficult not to trigger.  The holster is sold separate and costs more than it is worth as it was cheap to even look at.  Any brand is probably comparable, but I feel more comfortable going to Cabela's, laughing like crazy, and so forth.  Back to our story.

What sounded good was a lasagna with zucchini and eggplant, but I had to add ground pork sausage as the Wirths are meat people.  And anyway, I came home at 178 lbs and I want to be 190 by Tuesday or Wednesday when I may leave for the next 3 week mountain trip and will lose weight by the second.  I am only up to 181.5 lbs, but you know what they say: "you don't get fat on salad."  I made 2 batches, one "Boring", and one "The Works."  "The Works" had shredded zucchini (cheese grater), diced olive, eggplant slices, pork sausage, tomatoes, onion powder, minced garlic, fresh basil, noodles, tomato sauce, mushrooms, green pepper and balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and crushed red pepper in the sauce, plus ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese.  "The Boring" left out the mushrooms, peppers, eggplant, balsamic vinegar, and crushed red pepper.  Strangely, "The Boring" was better.  This bell pepper was so strong it drowned out the basil especially, but all the flavors.  Well, there were 2 dishes, and after an hour of easy jolly prepping, joking, with plenty of assistance from all, and 30 minutes baking, the 4 of us ate most of both dishes.  2 of 14 pieces were left over.  Our sides were provided by the hosts: blackberry fusion jello with whipped cream: excellent.  A delicious cantelope, and a too salty "everything" french bread with a lot of stuff on it.  Everyone but me LOVED that bread.  We drank berry sodas and played 10 stack too.  10 stack is played with 4 decks of cards, with different backs.  Each player plays a small game of solitaire, feeding aces into the middle for pool scoring.  You get one point for each card you pile into the middle: only a 2 of spades can go on an ace of spades, and so on up to Kings.  You also have 2 draw piles: one is a hidden stack of 10 cards that you lose 2 points for each one you fail to clear before the round ends, when one player calls out "clear" when their 10 stack is gone.  It got violent, and by violent, I mean, that my rival for the night, phenom player Misty, and pseduo-inventor of the game, both threw down 3 of clubs, with hers just eclipsing mine, though she paid for it with a gash across her hand from my thumb nail.  "Come to the middle hard or don't come at all," I proclaimed, only a little guilty for severely wounding her and weakening her play from there on out due to blood loss.  When that got old, we did some "Who would win?" card game, where you play one event card, 2 characters, and then debate who would win.  The point is to debate and have fun.  Its a simple game and one I think I improved by the following trick: reveal one character first and start taking bets, then the other, and then the event card.  This way you get some cool matchups: Stephen Hawking verses Spider Man.  Obviously as Spiderman is brainy, Stephen Hawking can only win in a single category: physics.  So I started asking odds from everyone.  Who will give me 5 to 1 to take Hawking on the off chance there is a physics seminar as the event card about to be turned over?  (I lost badly)  But you also get some matchups like Barbie verses Santa Clause, Frankenstein's Monster verses Lance Armstrong (added later: extra funny after his Oprah interview a year later!).  Popeye verses Bill Cosby was a good one.  I took the odds offered me on Cosby and won because it was a crossword puzzle for the event.  Brains over brawn baby!



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Drizzle: Gourmet Heaven

Fairhaven District in Bellingham, WA is the best eating I've ever had (other than my own cooking). 

My trip to Washington was about mountains and hiking.  I loved the idea of a several week trip out there for months because I could look forward to beaches, mountains, forests, basically everything.  What I did not expect when heading to the Cascades though, was accidentally finding a gourmet mecca.  Fairhaven District is a 3 square block historical zone inside the town of Bellingham at the end of the comically-named Chuckanut Highway (not worth driving).  I headed there because a sign for "Colophon Cafe" on the freeway (I-5) caught my eye when I was hungry.  Immediately as I drove into this little downtown, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I threw on the nicest clothes I had (or at least the ones not covered with mud and mountain sweat) and decided to make an afternoon of things before heading into the Cascades National Park.

Once I found Colophon Cafe I got down to real business.  The menu grabbed me when I noticed a 3 soup sampler.  I was able to get a bowl of African Peanut (their specialty), Greek Lemon Chicken (their soup of the day), and the obligatory Clam Chowder, Northwest style.  I like that in Washington Chowder is Northwest Chowder, while in Oregon and California, they call it Boston Chowder.  Take some pride, Fairhaven!  

All 3 soups were great.  The chowder was very fresh with potatoes, carrots, and greens, not fishy at all or stale like canned varieties or what you find away from the shore.  The Greek soup was good, very lemony though not tart, with lots of herbs and rice.  The best though was this African Peanut soup.  Its marvelous.  Here is a link to the pdf of the recipe, which Colophon provides free on their website along with others:

And here is the main website link:

I am in shock that this recipe is readily available. I was scribbling down the ingredients off the menu, and trying to be sneaky about it.  It is probably too much work for most, especially when one is local and a bowl costs $3.95, and perhaps, when it fails at home, that drives more customers back, not less?  Well, let me say, the turkey is not necessary.  You could easily make this as a vegan option by starting with vegetable stock and I think it would still be amazing, maybe more so, as more could enjoy it.  The turkey is "gravy".  It was not bad or out of place, but it did not add anything for me. 

The cafe also serves great old fashioned ice creams and other desserts, and is connected to a gift shop and a fine local book store. Also attached to Colophon Cafe in back is one of the most remarkable businesses on earth: a tasting bar...for gourmet Balsamic Vinegars and Olive Oils!

Now I was full, but had to see what this was all about, so I wandered back to "The Drizzle."  My first sip of black cherry balsamic vinegar from a paper cup filled from a huge stainless steel drum later, I was dizzy with excitement.  It was amazing!  Fig blend was sold out (though I've since adored it at home), but apricot was another winner.  White apple was a bore. Champignon olive oil could be made at home cheaper.  And easily.  Just add mushrooms to your olive oil.  But there were also walnut oils, truffle oils, dark chocolate balsamic (meh), espresso balsamic (yeck), and one that nearly made me puke.  I think it was pineapple balsamic vinegar, which triggers my gag instinct right off, but I can't quite be sure of that.  Might have been mango balsamic.  Tropical, anyway.

The idea is simple: find what you like, grab one of the toadies to fill a bottle for you ($10, $15, or $20 sizes) and head home.  

Your other option for gourmet balsamic vinegars is to try this website, which is basically the same store but with an economy size option (100 ml for $5.95) and without the dark chocolate balscamic:

Or try infusing your own.  Apricot and black cherry were my favorites, and I was told fig balsamic is the very best seller.  At "The Drizzle" the toadies suggest olive oils and meals to pair with your choices.  I'd say if all else fails, put it on a salad, eat in on toast, or drink it straight like kalua.  They are good!

The entire town of Fairhaven in Washington is a foodie paradise.  Here is a picture of a macadamia nut mousse I had for dessert after eating 2 dinners (hey I hiked for a week and was hungry!)

Fairhaven is possibly my favorite place on Earth that the mark of human civilization has touched.  So far.  A charming town with an outdoor theatre, live music all summer, old-fashioned shoppes, hotels, no fast food or chain stores, ocean access, tons of options for amazing food, and it is right at the doorway to the Northern Cascades, a wild place to hike and climb.  Go there someday. It is technically part of the city of Bellingham.

If you do get to Washington, but not Fairhaven, some great soups can be had at any Safeway.  I enjoyed the uber-fattening "Beef Stroganoff Soup" (960 calories in one sitting), a great tomato and bell pepper bisque (always good: 540 calories) and a Coconut and Red Curry Chicken Bisque (720 calories) with rice and vegetables.  Many other flavors are available, not all disgustingly salty and bad for you, though if you want to hike 160 miles in 15 days like me, you will be eating these in under 3 minutes and still losing weight, like I did, and still being dehydrated and salt deprvied.  And you'll be going through whole jars of peanut butter every day too.  Exercise and eat what you like, that's what I say.  And then hit the wine or beer aisle of the nearest grocery.  So many options.